Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond
Mexican Riviera

Catalina Island Cruise Port Guide

Avalon harbor at Catalina Island. Credit: Pixabay Creative Commons license
Avalon harbor at Catalina Island. Credit: Pixabay Creative Commons license
Catalina Island is the only island with a cruise port on a Mexican Riviera cruise. No other port is on an island. It's also the only port not in Mexico.

But this California island is a popular stop anyway on some short-term Mexican Riviera cruises.

It is a common port of call for Mexican Riviera cruises that depart from Long Beach, Los Angeles and San Francisco and that last three to five days. These quick cruises often go only to Catalina and Ensenada on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico before returning to their embarkation ports.

The most common Mexican Riviera cruises, which last six days and seven nights, rarely visit Catalina even from the nearby Long Beach. It is never a port of call for cruises out of San Diego, which lies 80 miles to the south.

Still, anyone who takes a cruise out of Long Beach or the nearby San Pedro district in Los Angeles can visit Catalina by ferry if they have an extra day available before or after their cruise.

Quick Tips

  • Check out the island's visitor center at Pleasure Pier.
  • Avalon is one-square mile in size and easy to tour on foot.
  • 80 percent of the island is a nature conservancy.

Where is Catalina Island?

Also known as Santa Catalina Island, this rocky destination is about 29 miles southeast of Long Beach, California. It is 143 miles north of Ensenada, Mexico, another popular port of call on short-term Mexican Riviera cruises. The island, which is 22 miles long and eight miles wide at its widest point, has a population of about 4,000 people.

They are mainly concentrated in the island's only incorporated city at Avalon on the southeast coast and the village of Two Harbors on the northwest coast. Cruise ships anchor near Avalon and tender (boat) their passengers to Pleasure Pier at the Avalon docks.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Walking Around Attractions

Avalon has the usual shops and restaurants to serve cruise passengers. There is a local museum 217 Metropole Ave. with a history of the island.

The Catalina Chimes Tower on Chimes Tower Road is a picturesque landmark that rings every 15 minutes. Getting there is an uphill climb from the docks, but it offers nice views of Avalon and the harbor.

Otherwise, the city is too small for many major attractions. But there are a few smaller ones that aren't too far away.

Catalina Casino is a half mile and a quick walk north of the docks. It is easily accessible via Casino Way Road, which begins at the harbourfront.

Like most casinos, it is free in one sense and not free in another. Visitors can enter for free, but they may have less money in their wallets when they leave again. Yes, it's a casino, but island visitors go there because it is one of the most prominent attractions on the island.

Shore Excursions

The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens are nearly two miles southwest of the docks. Although the distance will discourage most walkers, cruise visitors can get there more easily by renting bicycles or golf carts that are common in Avalon.

Anyone who wants just a guided scenic tour of the island can spend about $30 to take one.

These bus tours last about an hour and a half and include the pretty Avalon Theatre, Wrigley estate and Catalina Casino.

The island has a zipline facility at Descanso Beach with five lines and a total of 3,400 feet. Zipliners travel up to 45 miles per hour and as high as 300 feet over Descanso Canyon. The cost is about $125 per person.

Adventurous visitors can try the "Catalina Aerial Adventure" with five challenging ziplines and suspension bridges. The 2.5-hour excursion costs about $60 per person.

Otherwise, standard shore excursions include snorkeling, kayaking, whale watching, dolphin viewing, scuba, glass bottom boats and parasailing.

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

Avalon has three small beaches right at the harbourfront and a larger one just north of the casino.

Step Beach, although small, is conveniently located right at the harbor front. South and Middle beaches are a short walk to the south of Step Beach. All three have lifeguards during the summer. They may get crowded during cruise ship visits.

Walkers can easily reach Descanso Beach, which is about three fourths of a mile north of Pleasure Pier. Otherwise, they can take a free shuttle during the summer from the casino. This private beach has a $2 entry fee.

Getting Around / Transportation

Car are rare on Catalina Island. Taxis meet all arriving ships. A taxi stand is at the end of Crescent Avenue by US Bank, according to the island's Chamber of Commerce.

A public bus serves Avalon on a fixed bus route from the Cabrillo Mole to the left of visitor's center where the ferries arrive. It goes to Casino Way and up the canyon to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden.

The bus is $2 per ride; children under 5 are free. The Catalina Island Company has free shuttle rides to Descanso Beach in the summer months. It includes a stop at the Catalina Casino. The bus departs from the Via Casino arch at the beginning of Casino Way.

Ferries to Catalina are available at San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point. Rides last an hour to an hour and a half depending on the starting point. Round trip prices are about $75 per person with discounts for children and senior citizens.

Catalina Island Cruise Port Map

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